Thunder Bay food banks to go digital to track client use

Food banks across Thunder Bay are getting a software update — even though some of them lack the necessary hardware.
Thunder Bay's Regional Food Distribution Association will be upgrading its computer software. It's hoped the new system will help paint a clear picture of who's using food banks in Thunder Bay. (Nicole Ireland/CBC)

Food banks across Thunder Bay are getting a software update — even though some of them lack the necessary hardware.

The Regional Food Distribution Association is mandating that all local food banks install a new computer program.

But not all of them are ready for the change. Some food banks still keep records by paper.        

The head of the Regional Food Distribution Association said the transition may be tough for some places, but it's mandatory nonetheless.

The head of the Regional Food Distribution Association, Volker Kromm, said the transition to using computer software may be tough for some places.

"Something like this is only effective if it's 100 per cent compliant, because that way we'll get a really good look at the situation of hunger and poverty in our area,” Volker Kromm said.

The software will be introduced in some area food banks over the next few weeks.

Doing more 'for our clients'

At the Thunder Bay Food Bank on Miles Street East, there's an index card for everyone who walks through the door at the Thunder Bay Food Bank. Each time they visit, their visit is recorded.

Volunteer Frank MacDiarmid said despite the fact about 600 visits are made to the food bank each month, he's never thought about going digital.

Thunder Bay Food Bank volunteer Frank MacDiarmid said he's never considered keeping digital records. (Adam Burns/CBC)

"Why not? The cost, for one thing," MacDiarmid said. "Plus the fact that we're operating with volunteers. So you'd have probably two or three volunteers able to operate the system. And then what happens when they leave? You have to train a new group of people."

But MacDiarmid may not have a choice, now that the RFDA is making all its food banks install new computer software.

Kromm said the system will help paint a clear picture of who's using food banks in Thunder Bay.

“There may be reluctance to change, but I think, in the end, the exciting part is we'll be able to do so much more for our clients,” he said.

That includes keeping track of certain clients' dietary needs, Kromm added.

He said the order to upgrade comes from the provincial food bank agency, the Ontario Association of Food Banks, but the RFDA will bear most of the cost.

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